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Wednesday 17 April 2013

The Sweetest Bite: Cameron of Lochiel and the English Officer

Sir Ewen Dubh Cameron (1629–1719) who was referred to by the historian Thomas Babington Macaulay as the Ulysses of the Highlands was undoubtedly the greatest of the Cameron chiefs. Many of his exploits were documented by his biographer John Drummond of Balhaldie. During his long-life, Sir Ewen lived to see a great many changes in the political and social landscape of the Highlands in which he was himself one of the prime movers. Historical anecdotes are predicated upon heroic behaviour and the following story of single combat is but one example of many. It was recorded by Calum Maclean on the 6th of November, 1952, from John MacGillivray who was then residing in Conon Bridge (Drochaid Suigdeil), Wester Ross:
Camashronach Loch Iall an am Ionbhar Lòchaidh – bha Sasannach a-bhos. Agus tha e col(t)ach na robh a’ Sasannach, gun a ghreamaich e fhéin is Camashronach Loch Iall an greim. Agus cha robh an Camashronach a’ faighinn as a’ ghreim aig an t-Sasannach agus ’s ann a dh’fhiach e air le fhiaclan ’na amhaich agus mhill e gu mór e. Agus bliadhnaichean an déidh sin bha Camashronach ann a Lunnainn, agus chaidh e a-staigh air son gu faigheadh e an fhiasag dheth gu taigh borabair. Agus bha a’ fear seo a-staigh:
“Well," ors eisean, “bha m’ athair-sa aig Blàr Ionbhar Lòchaidh agus dh’fhiach Gàidheal air choireigin a mharaadh le greim a thoirt as an amhaich aige. Na robh e agam-sa an-dràsda,” agus e a’ giarachadh a’ ràsair, “cha bhitheadh e fada beò.”
Bha an Camashronach a’ smaoineachadh gu robh fios aige air gur e fhéin a rinn e. Agus bha eagal a bheatha air. Bha e a’ smaoineachadh. Bha e ag innseadh ’n uair a thàinig e dhachaidh nach d’fhuair e an fhiasag a thoir’ dheth riamh, a leithid de dh' eagal a ghabh e a’ smaoineachadh gu robh deireadh a latha gus a bhith ann.
“O, bha e an àite cunnartach.” 
“Bha e an àite cunnatach,” ’n uair a bha am bodach, an gille a' giarachadh a’ ràisar “’N robh e agam-sa an-dràsda!”
And the translation goes something like this:
Cameron of Lochiel was in Inverlochy [i.e. at the Battle of Inverlochy] – and there was an Englishman. And it appears that the Englishman and Cameron of Lochiel wrestled one another. Cameron of Lochiel was unable to get out of the Englishman’s grip and so he bit him in his throat and grievously injured him. Many years afterwards Cameron of Lochiel was in London and he went to get his beard shaved in a barber’s shop. And the man said:
“Well,” he said, “my father was at the Battle of Inverlochy and some Highlander or another tried to kill him by biting out his throat. And if he was here right now,” as he sharpened the razor, “then he wouldn’t live very long.”
Cameron of Lochiel thought the man knew that he that had done it. He took a great fright. He was thinking. It is said that when he reached home that he never ever shaved again such was the fright that it took when he thought that his life was nearing its end.
“Oh, he was in a dangerous place.”
“He was in a dangerous place,” when the old man, the lad was sharpening the razor: “If only I had him just now.”
In this book The Highlands (1959), Calum Maclean gives a short version of the event:
During the occupation of Scotland the English soldiery were stationed in Lochaber. One day a party of Camerons under Eoghan Dubh encountered a band of English soldiers out gathering firewood by Locheilside. Eoghan Dubh and his men were not the kind to shun a scrap. In the ensuing fight Eoghan Dubh grappled with an enormous English officer. They wrestled and the Englishman threw Eoghan on the flat of his back and held him to the ground. Eoghan’s hands were pinioned but like a flash he caught the Englishman’s throat in his teeth and did not let go until he had torn out his windpipe. Some years after the Restoration, Eoghan visited England and happened to go into a barber’s shop to be shaved. The barber, noticing his strange dress and appearance, asked him if he hailed from Scotland. Eoghan replied in the affirmative. As he held the razor to Eoghan’s throat the barber said: “There are some terrible savages in Scotland. Do you know that a Highlander tore the windpipe out of my father with his teeth. If I had the throat of the villain who did it, I’d waste little time slitting it with this razor.” Eoghan never again entered a barber’s shop.
Also his nineteenth century biography, John Drummond of Balhaldie gives the following graphic account (with original spelling intact) of that famous encounter:
It was his chance to follow a few that fled into the wood, where he killed two or three with his own hand, non having pursued that way but himself. The officer who commanded the party had likewayes fled thither, but concealing himself in a bush, Locheill had not noticed him. This gentleman, observing that he was alone, started suddenly out of his lurking-place, and attacked him in his return, threatning, as he rushed furiously upon him, to revenge the slaughter of his countreymen by his death. Locheill, who had also his sword in his hand, received him with equall resolution. The combate was long and doubtfull; both fought for their lives; and as they were both animated by the same fury and courage, so they seemed to manage their swords with the same dexterity. The English gentleman had by far the advantage in strength and size, but Locheill exceeding him in nimbleness and agility, in the end tript the sword out of his hand. But he was not allowed to make use of this advantage; for his antagonist flyeing upon him with incredible quickness, they inclosed and wrestled till both fell to the ground in other's arms. In this posture they struggled, and tumbled up and doun till they fixt in the channell of a brooke, betwixt two straite banks, which then, by the drouth of summar, chanced to be dry. Here Locheill was in a most dismall and desperate scituation; for being under most, he was not only crushed under the weight of his antagonist, (who was an exceeding big man,) but likewayes sore hurt, and bruized by many sharp stones that were below him. Their strength was so far spent, that neither of them could stirr a limb; but the English gentle man, by the advantage of being uppermost, at last recovered the use of his right hand. With it he seized a dagger that hung at his belt, and made severall attempts to stab his adversarey, who all the while held him fast ; but the narrowness of the place where they were confyned, and the posture they were in, rendering the execution very difficult, and almost impracticable, while he was so straitly embraced, he made a most violent effort to disingadge himself ; and in that action, raiseing his head and streaching his neck, Locheill, who by this had his hands at liberty, with his left suddently seized him by the right, and with the other by the collar, and jumping at his extended throat, which he used to say, “God putt in his mouth,” he bitt it quitt throw, and keept such hold of his grip, that he brought away his mouthfull! This, he said, was the sweetest bite ever he had in his lifetime! The reader may imagine in what a pickle he would be, after receiving such a gush of warm blood, as naturally flowed from so wide ane orifice.
Almost half-a-dozen versions of the tale were recorded by Calum Maclean indicating something of its popularity and its spread throughout the Highlands. In addition many others were printed in various Celtic periodicals during the nineteenth century. Some of the versions later recorded may have been influenced by these printed accounts. The event is also said to have inspired a classical piece of pipe music entitled Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel’s Salute. If these stories are based upon an actual historical event then they have grown in the telling which was a most natural thing to do for any storyteller worth their salt.
Anon., ‘Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel’, The Celtic Monthly, vol. XII, no. 3 (Dec., 1903), pp. 51–54
Anon., ‘Eachdraidh an Ridire Urramaich, Sir Eóghann Camshron, Triath Loch Iall; History of Sir Ewen Cameron of Lochiel, Part I’, Cuairtear nan Gleann, no. 38 (Apr., 1843), pp. 38–41
John Cameron, ‘The Sweetest Bite: An Incident in the Life of Sir Ewen Cameron’, The Celtic Monthly, vol. IV, no. 3 (Dec., 1895), pp. 63–64
John Drummond (of Balhaldie), Memoirs of Sir Ewen Cameron of Locheill (Edinburgh: Abottsford Club, 1842), pp. 118–119
Andrew J. Macdonald, Glen-Albyn or Tales and Truths of the Central Highlands (Fort Augustus: The Abbey Press, 1920), pp. 24–27
Calum I. Maclean, The Highlands (Inbhirnis: Club Leabhar, 1975), p. 30
SSS NB 21, pp. 1705–06
Sir Ewen Cameron

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